If you are not using Flash viewers for 360 degree panorama images, then your website is losing out. They say that a picture can paint a thousand words, and online, your website is often limited in the number of pictures that you can show, and so your customers or visitors are limited. Often what you will want to do is to invite them fully into your office space or environment, and let them have a look around them. Being immersed within the environment of your establishment or location makes customers or visitors feel very much more involved with you, and able to reach out and make a connection, whereas all too often websites present a very flat and inaccessible means of communication, with the monitor acting more as a barrier or wall than a window.
In recent times, some website owners have taken a step towards solving this problem by integrating panoramic images of their workspace or location, and in many cases taking this a stage further and turning them into full interactive, 360° views of the location. Effectively what this means is that visitors can see a photo of the location, but by clicking on the picture and dragging, they can turn to look in any direction, up, down, zooming in and out to look at objects close up, and turning round on the spot a full 360°, looking in every direction seamlessly and then returning to the original view.
In this way, visitors feel that they have seen the place already, and can see what it is like in every direction. They can realise that the view chosen by the photographer wasn’t specifically staged to hide all the rubbish and clutter elsewhere – the visitor can see the view in front of the photographer, but also the view behind and to the sides as well.
This is achieved in one of two ways. There are special cameras which can be sat on top of a tripod, and which have a lens which is doughnut shaped. This manages to take a single photograph which takes a full 360° image of the location. Using software this image can then be embedded into a viewer and this results in the interactive element. These types of cameras are quite expensive, and so often it is better value for money to ask a professional photographer to do this for you.
Alternatively, there is a much cheaper alternative, which works just as well. Simply stand a tripod in a suitable location and fix the camera to point in your starting direction. Take the photo, then rotate the camera a few degrees to the left, so that the picture is at exactly the same height, and overlaps the previous one by about 10%. Keep doing this, turning the camera each time to create a new photo, each one slightly overlapping the previous, until you return to the start. You may well end up with anything from a dozen to twenty photos.
There is a whole wealth of photo stitching software available on the internet, many of which are free, such as the PhotoShop plug-in Panorama Tools. If you have the time, you can do the same thing manually, but basically this lays each photo out in a long line, overlapping them, to create one very long photo that creates a full 360° image.
The problem is then how to get that image onto a web page so that the visitor can easily pan around to see the whole image, can zoom in and out easily, sees the image at full quality, without distortion, and doesn’t need to download viewing software to be able to do it? Many viewers make you download specific software clients to enable viewing of the image, and most visitors will be unwilling to do this. Some solutions include using Java, but since many internet users have security setting high enough to block such content, you’re going to have to persuade them to lower their security for your site, and that doesn’t come easily.
Instead, the ideal solution is to have a Flash based 360° image viewer. Almost everyone has the Flash plug-in as standard, and these don’t need any security changes. Since the Flash viewers allow the image to be displayed programmatically (in other words, the position, scale and distortion of the image is calculated to display appropriately) the visitor sees the view as it really was.
Flash is one of the easiest, if not the easiest media object to embed into a web page, and since the best ones reference the image data externally, you only need to change the image and reference link to either update the view whenever you feel the need, or duplicate the layout and format of the page for other views.
For those who have homes or museums open to the public, 360° views allow the visitors to see what’s available easily, and create great selling points. Whether you’re selling the idea of your school, work place, park or stately home, the advantages are clear – visitors love being able to control the view and explore in a kind of virtual reality fashion, and this means that by being actively involved, the images and the names will stick much better. We all remember places we’ve actually been to much better than those we’ve just seen a picture of. Being able to use Flash viewers to explore a fully interactive 360° panorama of somewhere will stick much better than a plain static photo of one view.